Result: Dunkirk 3-3 Selston (East Midlands Counties League Premier Division)
Venue: Lenton Lane/ Ron Steel Sports Ground (Saturday 12th May 2018, 3pm)
As leagues around the country finally reached their climax after a long-winded season which seemed like it’d never end to me (never mind to the players, managers, secretaries etc), so it was that a number of titles were still up for grabs come the finally clashes. After a peruse of many league’s fixtures lists hither and yonder, I was almost inclined to head to Thorne Colliery near Doncaster – what with that lovely, traditional stand they have – but ideally I was looking for a game with something on the line, but also one that wasn’t too far away.
The NCEL play-offs didn’t fit the bill eventually, with the final ending up over on the East coast at Grimsby Borough and so that was another possibility scratched off. It looked as though my quest would be a fruitless one until, by blind chance, I was looking at the East Midlands Counties and realised that both Dunkirk and Anstey Nomads were both vying for the Premier Division title and both were at home! I knew where Dunkirk were based (having wanted to visit for a while) and having seen that Anstey was a fair way further, the decision was made. To the Boatmen of Dunkirk it was!
After heading into Manchester a little earlier than required to pick up tickets for the trip down to Wembley in a couple of weeks time for the England friendly with Nigeria, I eventually caught the delayed (shock, horror!) East Midlands service over to Nottingham, arriving slightly late which did mean a slightly frenetic period of trying to work out where the connecting train that would take me the one-stop and five minutes over to Beeston (I’m still not used to Nottingham station just yet). Eventually, I sorted myself out and was setting foot in Beeston shortly afterwards.
A short walk later and I found myself coming across the White Lion pub, which had a first for me waiting within; that first being they had the Portuguese beer Sagres on draught. It’s nice enough in a bottle but, my word, is it fantastic in a pint. Great stuff. Anyway, I assumed the guys in there were Portuguese, on account of the lesser spotted Sagres, but it turned out they were Greek. I did wonder “Where’s the Mythos?”!
The White Lion served as a nice starting place where I could mark out my day’s itinerary from there. I did note that there was a pub right next door, so reckoned that would fit in nicely to be the last ‘cab off the rank’, as it were. As a result, I set my sights on the town centre and up first was the Malt Shovels, tucked away down a small side road. It seemed pretty popular though, with many of the punters enjoying the good-looking food within, as well as the good range of ales the pub had on. I opted to try one of the latter, but this ended up being off around half-way through and so I instead went for the Quiver Pale Ale alongside it, costing £3.75. Not a bad pint either.
From here, I cut pretty much straight across and to the Sainsbury’s shop (I wasn’t there for that, though) and after being initially intrigued by the bell perched up underneath one of the arch’s, I headed into the Pottle of Blues micropub a few doors down and a brilliant place it was too, very small and decorated all over the bar area by copious amounts of beermats. A pint of the Lemon & Lime cider (£3.40) was had here, whilst also saying “hello” to Reg the dog and his parents – though they weren’t his actual parents, they were human….
Finishing up here, I continued just around the corner and to the Bendigo Lounge, one of the chain of bars that carry the Lounge name. It was heaving in here and I was just happy to secure a small table, tucked away on the side, to have a pint of Beck’s (£3.70) before carrying on the down the pedestrianised high-street and past a few larger retail outlets before arriving at the bus stop where I’d be catching the #18 down towards the canal, from where it’s around a half-hour walk around to the ground, via a riverside, tree-lined walk.
The above was eventually navigated (despite getting lost amidst the multitude of farmer’s fields and the like between the two initially), and after heading on past a couple of large sporting complexes, I finally had the lights of the Ron Steel Sports Ground within sight. Passing through the gates and past a seemingly unused pay box, I arrived at the gate in time to secure the last programme. A definite bonus, though it was largely only a collection of local league news and the like amassed from their sites, though does offer the history of both clubs, one of which is highly useful here! No bother there though, as I only really keep them for a reference to remember the trip from. £5 in as per usual, and I was soon exploring the Lenton Lane ground.
The ground itself is a decent one and houses three stands. The first of which is an all-seater affair, which is situated behind the near-end goal and alongside the turnstile and “tunnel” (the latter is more of a walk from the clubhouse outside the ground itself), and is slightly raised in quite an unusual manner. The far side hosts the other two, which are almost adjoined, and together run almost the full length of the pitch. One is a small, seated stand, whilst the other is a covered terrace of a similar size. The opposite end houses the dugouts and is open, hard standing, whilst the far, tree-lined end also has hard standing only. So that’s the ground and this is the story of the Boatmen of Dunkirk F.C….
Dunkirk Football Club was founded in 1946 and takes its name from a local residential area rather than its namesake area in Northern France (translated from Dunkerque) that seemingly inspired its small boat-like crest and nickname “The Boatmen”. They first joined the Notts Amateur League and remained there with little success through to 1974 when they eventually won the Division 1 title before winning the Premier Division & League Cup double the following season. They were thusly accepted into the Notts Alliance League’s Division 2 and finished up runners-up come the end of their first season there (1975-’76).
They would win the Notts Alliance League Division 2 title in 1981 and reached the final of the Alliance’s League Cup in 1983, but lost out. They would go on to win the Division 1 title two seasons later (1985), along with that year’s Nottinghamshire F.A. Intermediate Cup, and were resultantly promoted to the Senior Division, where they would remain for the remainder of their stay in the league, winning the League Cup at the second time of asking in 1988, whilst finishing as Senior Division runners-up for three seasons straight between 1989 & 1991, with the latter also seeing them as beaten League Cup finalists for a second time, though this went to a replayed game after a 2-2 initial draw with Pelican F.C., prior to losing the second game two-nil.
Dunkirk would enter the FA Vase for the first time in 1992, losing in their first game to Lincoln United, but would win their first game in the competition the next season, overcoming Nettleham 5-3, before going on a fine run in the 1994 competition, reaching the last 16 prior to eventually going down to Tiverton Town. Season 1995-’96 would see the Boatmen join the Central Midlands League and they immediately enjoyed success in the Premier League, finishing as that season’s runners-up and being promoted to the grandly named Supreme Division. Their good form continued, finishing as Supreme Division runners-up at the end of their first season in the top division and won the League Cup in 1998, beating Clipstone Welfare two-nil in the final at Hucknall Town’s Watnall Road (a ground I, incidentally, visited a couple of months back).
Their impressive start to life in the Central Midlands League continued, the club attaining their second runners-up spot in the Supreme Division in 1999 (their second in three seasons at that level), with a last-day win seeing them pip Goole to second place. Though their league form dropped off for the next few years, Dunkirk continued to do well in the cup competitions. Though they would again miss out in the final of a League Cup (losing 2-0 to Dinnington Town), they lifted the same season’s (2002-’03) Floodlit Cup, defeating Sutton Town on penalties. However, better was to come and 2005 saw the Boatmen take the Supreme Division title, whilst again taking the Floodlit Cup over Clipstone Welfare (and again by the 2-0 score-line), whilst again reaching the CMFL League Cup final, but again suffered disappointment in that competition – losing out to Sandiacre Town by a single goal. Further misfortune was to strike the club at the end of the season, as promotion was denied due to ground grading issues, meaning many players would leave for the higher levels, with Dunkirk consigned to remain in the CMFL.
The club reached the 2nd round of the FA Vase in 2008, before lifting their second CMFL League Cup with an one-nil extra-time victory over Blidworth Welfare. This would end up being a signing-off triumph, as the club were accepted to become a founder member of the East Midlands Counties Football League for the 2008-’09 campaign. This was an effective step up for the club and thus gave them the opportunity to enter the FA Cup for the first time, though they’d go on to lose out 4-1 to Alvechurch from the Step 5 Midland Football Alliance (as opposed to the Step 6 EMCL). Their first season was a strong one for the most part, Dunkirk leading the way with a dozen games to play, but eventually faded somewhat to finish up in 5th.
2010 would see the Boatmen lift the East Midlands Counties League title as they embarked on a 30-game unbeaten run and nine straight wins at the end of the season saw them take the championship by six points from Gresley. They were duly promoted to the Midland Football Alliance. In the cups, they had also enjoyed a decent FA Vase run once more, bowing out in the Third Round to Pickering Town on penalties and reached the final of the EMCL League Cup, where they were beaten finalists at the hands of Gedling Town, after a 2-1 extra-time loss.
2010-’11 saw Dunkirk at Step 5 for the first time and they finished eighth, but just four points off third and also won their first FA Cup match by beating Dinnington Town 4-3 in extra-time and added NPL side Grantham Town to their scalps in the next round before going out to “local rivals” Carlton Town and a 3rd Round appearance in the Vase was again attained, with a defeat to Northern League side Ashington ending the Boatmen’s hopes. In the league, things waned somewhat and only a couple of late recoveries, including a crucial final day point in 2013-’14, saw them keep their Step 5 status intact. Things wouldn’t improve much however and despite getting out of trouble on the last day of the 2015-16 season as well, after languishing in the drop zone for a long while, 2016 finally saw Dunkirk relegated from the (now-named) Midland League after finishing second-bottom and return to the East Midlands Counties League for last season. They would finish 5th and win the EMCL League Cup for the first time come the end of the last campaign, prior to going on to lead the way in the league come the final day’s round of fixtures, as the Boatmen look to return to Step 5 and the Midland League after a couple of years away.
The game was soon underway and we didn’t have long to wait for the first goal to come along. Just seven minutes into the game, the hosts’ Lee Potts found himself in after running onto a through ball, but with the angle against him. This didn’t seem to matter too much to the forward, though, and he fired high into the net, just inside the far post to give the title-chasing Boatmen an early advantage.
However, they were soon to suffer something of a set-back, when Ben Moore (the home version, not the visiting skipper) rather needlessly reacted to a robust challenge and, after raising his hands to the Selston player whose challenge had incensed him, duly received his marching orders. Just what Dunkirk didn’t need on the day, though it looked to have hardly affected them when, ten minutes later, a Selston defender was caught in possession and Stephen Chaplin was played in before firing under ‘keeper Simon Baldwin to give the hosts a two-nil advantage and it looked as though the title would be won in routine fashion, if only they could keep it tight.
This theory would fall apart almost immediately from the restart as a free-kick was delivered towards the back-post which duly allowed Grant Hackett to nod into the net at the back post. However, Hackett would soon turn from hero to zero as a very poor challenge led to him rightfully seeing the second red of the day, though he did take the ‘banter’ well on the way off.
The all-action nature of the first-half continued as Dunkirk reinstated their two-goal advantage. An awfully under hit back-pass was seized upon by Tim Berridge and he continued on to round Baldwin and slot into the empty net. Again, it looked like this would be the goal that would likely clinch the title, especially with the teams now both featuring the ten men each, but once more Dunkirk would concede almost straight away when another cross in resulted in Domonic Airey nodding in from close range to reduce the arrears to just the one goal again and set nerves jangling within the home ranks.
I’d spent the first half with the bugle-owning Alan and fellow home supporter Gary, while the action kicked-off all over the pitch and it was good to have a chat to the two of them (though they may have wanted me to go away!). I did leave the pair in peace towards the end of the half as both sides began to settle down somewhat. Half-time arrived shortly afterwards, with the Boatmen on course to take the title. I headed for the clubhouse/food bar, where I got in a portion of chips for around £1-£1.50, I can’t remember if I’m honest.
Soon enough it was time to head back pitch-side as the sides were about to re-emerge from the dressing rooms within the same building. Once everyone was back out into the Nottinghamshire sunshine, we were back underway once more and after around five minutes or so of the second period, Selston were back level. A free-kick was won out towards the touch-line and the resultant ball in was headed back across goal from the back post where Airey forced it over the line to level up the scores and create a nervy second-half, with Anstey’s hopes suddenly looking more realistic than they had at any point during the day up to that point.
But it was the hosts who went close to going back ahead, when Lorcan Hickey’s effort forced Baldwin into a decent stop, before he denied Potts a second with a far easier save from the resultant scramble. Then, Selston looked to have gone ahead, when Kenan Layton’s met a cross and his header looked destined for the net, only for Liam Mitchell to somehow get across to tip the ball wide of the upright in what proved to be a crucial save. Almost as good as a goal, you could say.
The two sides continued to trade chances and go end-to-end, with a goalmouth scramble just being forced clear somehow by the visitors, before they countered quickly, having the home defence in retreat (there’s a pun in there somewhere, isn’t there?!) and Carl Moore was in and looked good to find the net, but only wastefully scuffed his effort wide of the mark. If that was a lucky escape for the home side, then what was to follow in the 93rd minute was a miracle.
With Dunkirk looking to keep it tight and secure the title-clinching point they held, Selston were piling on the pressure and definitely not giving them an easy ride. Then they had the chance to break the hosts’ hearts when the winger got clear down the right and crossed low where the unmarked Moore was located and, from around the penalty spot and with the goal seemingly at his mercy…..he blazed over into the car-park behind the goal, with sighs of relief mixed with cheers coming from a release of the same emotion. After some decent time-wasting heading tactics by Mitchell, the final whistle duly arrived to signal that Dunkirk were the 2018 East Midlands Counties League Premier Division champions!
After watching the title being lifted and the resultant celebrations, I bid goodbye to Alan & Gaz and headed back along the riverside path, before veering off towards the canal, where I was given a weather update upon my arrival near the bus stop by a dog walker, warning me of the imminent threat of rain arriving from the South. It was a timely one too, as no sooner had the bus turned up to ferry me back to Beeston centre, the rain began to fall and this would, of course, force me to find cover upon my arrival. The Crown looked to be a fine place that offered just that, and just happened to offer beer too. The Moretti wasn’t all that cheap though, coming in at £4.80, but the Crown was a fine, traditional establishment nonetheless.
A quick drink to tick off the town’s Wetherspoon’s followed (in an old post-office), before a final stop back in the Star Inn (that I alluded to earlier) on the way back, for a pint of Amstel, was made prior to returning back to Beeston station for the short hop back to Nottingham and the connection back to Manchester some 20 minutes or so later. All on time from there which meant an earlier than planned connection was made home, so can’t be too displeased with that!
All in all it had been a fine day out. A title win, a great game and a nice little ground all combined to make it as such. The food was ok, to get the last programme was a bonus and the pubs in Beeston all added to the positivity too. That’s the first of the two trips of the weekend in the books, with Crystal Palace to come. An early start needed….but never mind that. Where’s the DRINK?!!!
Value For Money: 7